What isn’t as nebulous is this: when the world stays home, the planet benefits. There’s nothing good about the coronavirus, but with a ban on non-essential travel and some countries in lockdown, we’re able to witness what happens to the Earth when we’re largely absent for the first time.

Satellite images published by NASA and the European Space Agency detected a reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions (which come predominantly from the burning of fossil fuels) from January to February in China, due to the economic slowdown during quarantine. Findings by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) show that China’s carbon dioxide emissions (which also come from fossil fuel combustion) have reduced by 25% because of measures taken to contain the coronavirus.

Shot iPolluted Chinese cities have seen a dramatic reduction in nitrogen dioxide levels over recent months
(Credit: Liyao Xie/Getty Images)n Tianjin, China

In India, a nationwide curfew on 22 March resulted in the lowest average level of nitrogen dioxide pollution ever recorded in spring, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). And as North America (one of the world’s major polluters) enters a major economic downturn, it’s likely we’ll see similar effects there.

“There’s just no way to have a safe climate and the business-as-usual plan with the aviation industry,” said Nicholas.

Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability scientist at LUCSUS

Of course, a global health crisis is not the answer to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the phenomenon should give us cause to reflect on the impact human activity has on the planet – including how we travel.

“Overtourism is just another form of overconsumption. I’m fine seeing tourism numbers lower overall and for the quality of tourism to increase, where people understand the destination better and have a positive impact on it versus overcrowding and pollution and wildlife habitat loss – which are all outcomes of too much tourism”

Shannon Stowell, CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association

When we’re on the ground in a destination, we can reduce our footprint by being respectful to the area’s culture and environment. “When you travel to a new place, you’re a guest in their home,” said Stowell. Part of accomplishing this is to choose sustainable accommodation and activities, and a green mode of transportation to explore the place you’re in. This might mean partnering with a sustainable local tour operator who is more familiar with the tourism landscape, which is also a way to give back to the local economy.

Waterways in Venice currently appear cleaner because of a drastic reduction in tourist boat traffic (Credit: Givaga/Getty Images)

In light of these startling statistics – in conjunction with the visible signs of environmental relief we’ve seen as the world stays home to beat Covid-19 – the question needs to be posed: when we can travel again, should we?

Read the full article over at the BBC here: